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Using Social Media in the Aftermath of a Crisis

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

Social Media and the Crisis Aftermath

When the hurricane ends, when authorities disarm the active shooter or when professionals stop an oil leak, many people assume the crisis is over because the threat has been neutralized. However, the crisis aftermath is crucial and communication responsibilities remain.

Social media is a useful tool for helping people step into the future after a critical event that may have hurt, confused, threatened or changed them. “There isn’t really a time when a tragedy is ‘over,’” writes Ted Uczen, FEI President and CEO. “Yes, the event ends, but the trauma and impact stay with us. It becomes part of who we are.”

Earlier posts discussed using social media to herald a crisis in a timely and effective manner and using social media to keep people informed during the crisis. Continuing the discussion in the crisis aftermath is important to maintain a positive narrative.

How you handle communication post-crisis will influence how people recall it, especially in relation to the ever-pervasive social media channels. Will people remember how this crisis was handled so they can more effectively navigate a similar one in the future? Will they remember your organization in a positive light?

How to Use Social Media After a Crisis

When communicating via social media in the crisis aftermath, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Accept blame

Take responsibility for any role the organization played in causing the crisis. Ideally, admission should take place as early in the crisis narrative as possible, but as crises unfold, more information becomes available, and more negative repercussions occur. Continue communicating with honesty and compassion in the aftermath of the event. “Don’t be defensive; don’t justify your actions; and most importantly, don’t hide from criticism,” Sofie De Beule writes for the Social Media Examiner.

Let people know how to help

Social media provides an excellent platform for engaging the community after a crisis. First of all, organizations can use social media to post pictures and updates about damages sustained following, for example, a tornado, to let viewers know how much havoc it wreaked. People won’t provide assistance if they don’t know assistance is needed. Even if they do know that other people need help, they often don’t know how to help. They may not take action unless they have specific instructions about what to do. Post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram to give community members specific options for helping those affected by the storm. For example, provide the address and contact information for a church collecting clothes and blankets. Or, list food items a local soup kitchen is collecting. Or, publish contact information for an organization recruiting volunteers to clear debris away from a neighborhood.

Bring on the hero stories

Though crises are often sad, destructive and terrible, bad circumstances usually generate acts of heroism, Matt Seeger and Tim Sellnow write in their book, Narratives of crisis: Stories of ruin and renewal. Which professor helped students escape to safety during an active shooter situation? Who saved the baby from the 11th floor of the burning building? Find out and tell their stories. Sharing hero narratives may be as simple as tweeting links to journalistic stories relevant to your organization. Or, it might involve a public relations manager interviewing a company hero and sharing a short story on the company’s Facebook page. Relief organizations or community groups might use Instagram to post a picture of a community hero and tell his or her story in the caption.

Use narratives of renewal to generate positive change

The principles of chaos theory teach that some crises are bifurcations. Bifurcations involve the destruction or serious alteration of a system, structure or way of doing things. That means a community or organization must engage in self-organization, which means forging a new path forward that often involves establishing new ways of doing things. Piecing together the renewal narrative in the crisis aftermath is crucial for helping an organization or community move in the right direction, Seeger and Sellnow explain. Just like a broken bone often heals to be stronger than it was originally, organizations often self-organize so effectively following a crisis that operation reaches a higher level than pre-crisis. Use social media to tell and share stories that highlight lessons learned from the loss, identify hope for the future, demonstrate a call to action to improve the community or organization, and outline specific steps to prevent a similar crisis from occurring again in the future.

Organizations and institutions are now utilizing social media platforms not only to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of a crisis but also to herald and manage crises.


Additional Sources

Social Media Examiner


Seeger, M. & Sellnow, T. Narratives of crisis: Stories of ruin and renewal



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